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CUP: Keselowski Now Swimming Upstream

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A day after being honored by the president of the United States, Brad Keselowski was slapped in the head – figuratively, of course – by the police of NASCAR.

Keselowski and his Penske Racing team, after an excellent start to a season in which they’re defending the Sprint Cup championship, were hit with a series of extraordinary penalties Wednesday in a NASCAR announcement probably delayed because of Keselowski’s Tuesday visit to the White House.

After the Fords of Keselowski and teammate Joey Logano failed inspection prior to last Saturday’s race at Texas Motor Speedway, NASCAR confiscated rear-end parts from the vehicles. Wednesday’s announcement detailed the penalties from that episode – the loss of 25 points for Keselowski, a six-week suspension for crew chief Paul Wolfe and other team members, and a $100,000 fine for Wolfe.

Logano’s team was hit with identical penalties, but the bigger issue will be with Keselowski’s group. Keselowski has been skating on thin ice much of the season with NASCAR, but he left the Texas race second in points and a clear contender for a second straight championship.

This week’s penalties could have a major impact on that quest. Penske Racing almost immediately announced its intention to appeal the penalties, meaning Wolfe and other team members can continue to participate in race weekends as that process unfolds, but there remains the likely possibility that Wolfe eventually will be sidelined for a string of races.

Penske’s team has significant depth, and there certainly are other talented individuals who can step into Wolfe’s role temporarily, but the working relationship Keselowski and Wolfe have developed is one of the sport’s strongest, and it’s likely that if Wolfe eventually is sidelined for six weeks the impact will be significant.

The points penalties dropped Keselowski from second (to Jimmie Johnson, probably his biggest threat) to fourth. In the big picture, that isn’t a major loss, as Keselowski is likely to make the Chase unless the team has a major collapse. But there could be a psychological impact as the team falls back from the battle for first place.

NASCAR made it clear from the severity of the punishment – particularly considering the number of individuals who were suspended – that the Penske violations are not run-of-the-mill. The sanctioning body also has said that it will not tolerate toying with suspension elements of the new Gen-6 car, and Keselowski and his team now are dealing with those ramifications.

The road gets rougher from here.

Mike Hembree is NASCAR Editor for SPEED.com and has been covering motorsports for 31 years. He is a six-time winner of the National Motorsports Press Association Writer of the Year Award.